Are you coming to Italy this year? Milan is not a traditional city as Rome. And it is not as charming as Florence. However, Milan has a lot to offer to those who visit, families can enjoy a long list of things to do. Here are some tips to visit Milan with you family.
Milan, a bit of history
Milan is the second biggest city in Italy; founded in the 6th century BC. The Romans conquered the city in 293 when it became Mediolanum, the capital of the Western Roman Empire.
During the Middle Ages it was a rich center that turned into a free city by 1117. In fact, it could already be considered one of Europe’s biggest cities in 1450.
As time went by, Milan underwent foreign dominations for centuries, a situation that strengthened the character of people and made it a leader city during Italy’s industrialization process.
As a direct consequence of World War II, Milan became the center of Italian Resistance. By the end of the fifties, it was the economic capital of the country, able to receive immigrants from an impoverished Italy, and later on, from all over the World. A status that remained unchanged up to the present.
What to do in Milan? Perfect activities for all the family
This is not an exhaustive guide to Milan; this is my guide to my Milan, the places we enjoy visiting as a family or that bring back great memories of all the years I was a student in the city.
Downtown area: The Duomo and its surroundings
If your kids are in for a walk, you can visit most of these sites in one day. The area covered is not that big. It might take you more if you are particularly interested in any special gallery or museum, for instance the Museo del Duomo or the Brera Gallery.
Il Duomo is an iconic symbol of Milan. It stands right in front of Piazza del Duomo, the meeting point of this city. This cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with more than 200 bas-reliefs, 90 gargoyles and 130 spires. It took over five centuries to complete and counts over 3000 statues.
Its impressive interior, divided into five naves, impacts the visitor with the effect created by the more than 50 stained-glass windows, offering a calm but also mysterious atmosphere; something that no other cathedral I’ve set foot in was ever able to give me. Be ready to cover your shoulders even in Summer, take a scarf!
Visitors can take the stairways (or even a lift – Mon-Sun 9 am – 6:30 pm) to arrive to the rooftop where to enjoy an outstanding view of the city, including the Alps on a clear day. There it stands the statue of the Madonnina, beloved symbol of the city. The ride to the top is something your kids will not forget. Reach the Duomo with the subway, you station is Duomo.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
A long pedestrian street that from the Duomo goes down to Piazza San Babila. Lined with elegant coffee bars and shops from many international chains. On the left side, coming from the Duomo, there is a small square; there you will find San Carlo al Corso, a neoclassical church with a characteristic dome. You can combine this with a visit to the Doomo; it’s right in front of it.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Also called il Salotto di Milano (the living room of the city), this is the place to be, to meet friends, to be seen. It is house of luxurious shops and restaurants. Its octagonal floor has a mosaic of heraldic emblems of the former Italian royal family and of some Italian cities. Again, if you already are in the Duomo, simply cross the street.
Piazza della Scala
A beautiful place to take a rest and take some wonderful pictures of the old trams that still go by on the cobblestone streets. At the center of the square there is a monument of Leonardo da Vinci surrounded by his disciples. Get to this Piazza by reaching the end of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
Teatro alla Scala (and Museo Teatrale alla Scala)
Built between 1776-1778, this theater soon became one of the most famous stages in the world. It suffered great damages during World War II, but it was soon rebuilt. If you write to firstname.lastname@example.org in advance you can book a guided tour behind the scenes. It’s right in front Piazza della Scala.
This tower is an iconic modern building (1957) you can easily see from the terrace of the Duomo. The structure recalls the Lombard architecture of medieval fortresses and castles but with a modern touch. It’s 99 meters high and has 28 floors. Take the subway and, again, your stop is the Duomo Station.
Pinacoteca di Brera
One of Italy’s most important art galleries. The Brera Astronomical Museum and Botanical Garden is testimony scientific culture heritage. The Palace is also house to the Academy of Fine Arts, the National Library, the Astronomical Observatory and the Botanical Garden. There are special visits and activities designed for children and families, mostly in the weekend. Reach the gallery with the subway, get of in Lanza station or Montenapoleone station.
The Castle was built over the medieval fortress that sheltered the city and was rebuilt by Francesco Sforza in 1450. It has a square structure and four towers, one at each corner, two of them cylindrical and two squared. Take the subway once again and get off in Cairoli station (or walk from the Duomo along Via Dante, a modern street fool of nice shops and bars, it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes).
The Castello divides into three courtyards, being the first and biggest one the Piazza d’Armi. Nowadays, the Castle is house to libraries and many museums:
- Museo di Arte Antica
- Furniture Museum
- Museum of Musical Instruments
- Applied Arts Collection… among other interesting collections.
A vast area extending over 380.000 sq. m., this park includes centennial trees coming from all over the World. It offers the best view from Piazza del Cannone, towards the lake and the Arco della Pace. There’s also an aquarium. This park is right behind the Castello, just across the castle to see the huge park in front of you.
Santa Maria delle Grazie and Cenacolo Vinciano
(Reservations needed) Holy Mary of Grace is a church and Dominican convent famous for the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, in the refectory of the convent. They suppose works started around 1495, commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.
There are lots of different associations offering guided tours to the outer courtyard of the Church and a visit to the Mural. Some of them include special activities for kids. Prices vary a lot, check wisely before booking. Take the subway once again (you’ve already bought a day pass, right?). You must get off in Conciliazione.
Quadrilatero della Moda
Milan’s fashion quadrangle, this glamorous neighborhood is home to a litany of the world’s leading fashion designers, who have spread their shops over famous streets like Via Montenapoleone or Via della Spiga. This time your subway station is San Babila.
Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio
Dedicated to the patron saint of Milan, it’s one of the most representative buildings of the Milanese spirituality. Built between 379 and 386, the church has two more modern bell towers, “dei Canonici” on the left and “dei Monaci” on the right, and both built over 500 years after building the church, subway once again, get off at S. Ambrogio
(Monumental Cemetery) One of the two main cemeteries in Milan, it displays an amazing stylistic diversity of monuments, mausoleums and sculptures as well as a Pantheon of famous citizens (the Famedio) with an octagonal cupola. You can get there by train (it’s very close to Garibaldi Station. Or even better, with a subway that leaves you in Monumentale station.
Nowadays the Navigli represent the heart of Milan’s nightlife. Bars, pubs and restaurants full of life and music open until late at night. In the past they connected canals around the city.
This is a wonderful place where to take a walk during the day, eat a good traditional dish for lunch, and have an Italian aperitivo before dinner or a drink after a pizza in good company. Your station to reach the Navigli by subway is Porta Genova
WHEN AT THE DUOMO AREA DON’T MISS…
- TASTING A PANZEROTTO at Via Santa Radegonda 16 – Subway Station Duomo
- HAVING A PIZZA at Via San Pietro all’Orto 3 – Subway Station San Babila
- EJOYING THE EXPERIENCE OF THE APERITIVO MILANESE at VINTAGE Via San Raffaele 3 – Subway Station Duomo
TOURIST OFFICE: (www.visitamilano.it) Ufficio del Turismo InfoMilano in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele Mon-Fri 9 am-7 pm; Sat-Sun 9 am-6pm
And if you want to take the train… two of my favorite nearby destinations are Como and Bergamo.
Reach Milano Stazione Centrale (Milan Central Station) and get a ticket to one of the following destinations (don’t forget to validate the tickets before getting on the trains).
by train: (30-60 minutes)
Como is in Lombardy, 45 km North of Milan, in the Province of Como. It is at the tip of the southwestern branch of the lake and a few miles away from the Swiss border. A beautiful paradise, one of Italy’s most famous spots, known for a superb cuisine, the snow-capped mountains, and a fine style. In his Charterhouse of Parma Stendhal described it as an “enchanting spot, unequaled on earth in its loveliness.”
Lake Como is 50 km long. To the west of Menaggio the lake splits in two. The mountains around the lake are 2000 m high and the lake up to 1350 feet deep, making it one of the deepest lakes in Europe.
Como is also renowned for its Villa Carlotta: a mix of luxurious interiors and art collections, house to a museum and a botanical garden. In Como, take the ferry to Cernobbio and stroll around the town. You can take pictures of colorful houses, visit the castle and Villa d’Este.
If you still have time, do not miss the nearby villages of…
Bergamo Città Alta
by train: (45-90 minutes)
Once arrived at the station, there’s a bus (line 1) for the upper city or Città alta, leaving every ten minutes. Or you can walk and catch the funicular.
Bergamo is a pretty old town in Lombardy, on the edge of the Alps. It was a defensive hilltop and now this part of town is known as the Città Alta (upper town). Most of the historic buildings are in this area. There is no traffic and the narrow lanes are pleasant to wander.
Modern Bergamo, instead, spreads over the plain below the old town. The lower town or Città Bassa was laid out at the beginning of the XX century. Both parts connect with a funicular.
Upper Town: Piazza Vecchia
is the heart of the old town, a wide open space surrounded by a mixture of medieval and Renaissance architecture, the piazza fills up with tourists and students from the university who gather around the fountain. There are several bars too.
The most interesting of the palazzi facing the square is the medieval Palazzo della Ragione, with a portico dating back to the 12th century and connecting Piazza Vecchia with the little Piazza del Duomo, home to a group of fine religious buildings, including a church (Santa Maria Maggiore), a Chapel and a Baptistery.
If you like music visit the Museo Donizettiano – Donizetti Museum – Via Arena, 9. The composer, born in Bergamo in 1797, is one of Bergamo’s most famous artists, he is buried in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. In the museum you can see some of his musical instruments.
Città Alta is a magical place, you can stroll the main street for hours, going up and down and then up again. Stop by at vineria Cozzi for a glass of wine (maybe a Fragolino). Trust me, that would make you the happiest person on Earth.